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20 November 2019updated 08 Jul 2021 10:55am

Evening Call: A damp squib in the starting gun

By Jasper jackson

If that was a starting gun, the race is going to be less Chariots of Fire and more egg-and-spoon-at-your-kid’s-sports-day. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn took to ITV’s neon stage on Tuesday night to duke it out in front of the nation and the results were anything but edifying.

As our post-match analysis from Patrick says, there was no clear winner. Johnson managed to just about avoid tripping over his own loquaciousness while hammering home his Brexit message. Corbyn delivered some traditional left-wing blows on issues such as the NHS with an assured delivery that nevertheless seems unlikely to change hearts or minds in Labour’s favour.

Of course, that whole affair was overshadowed by the Conservative Party Press Office’s decision to use the occasion to don some fancy dress and pretend to be “FactcheckUK” a move which even the likes of Brexiteer journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer found distasteful.

Will it all make any difference? 6.7 million people tuned in to watch the debate last night, and a fair few more will have seen the commentary and fall out online. But it’s hard to gauge whether those were mostly supporters tuning in to cheer on their team, or undecideds seriously taking the opportunity to gauge who they want to be prime minister come Christmas.

So far it looks like the polls haven’t moved much in response. And as Patrick writes this morning, given Boris Johnson’s majority-securing lead among the pollsters so far, that will feel like a victory to the Tories.

What does it mean for the rest of the campaign? Well, it looks like a gruelling slog to the finish line for all involved.

Good day for…

Beavers. I’ll be honest I was really struggling to find someone or something having a good day today, but now I’ve finally found one I’m not disappointed. The National Trust is set to introduce two beaver families on to land in Somerset, and another group in Surrey, in a bid to improve biodiversity and tackle flooding.

Bad day for…

Donald Trump? It’s difficult to predict what constitutes a bad day for the 45th US president, who has broken through norms of decency, integrity and sanity so regularly in his term it’s hard to remember what we once thought the office entailed.

And yet the pre-impeachment hearings in the US are gathering pace. Today the US ambassador to the European Union has suggested that that the quid pro quo Trump is alleged to have offered Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskey in return for an investigation into Joe Biden was “no secret” among government agencies.

The claim is solid evidence that Trump behaved as the Democrats suggested, the grounds currently cited for impeachment. Whether that means the president is any closer to being removed is another matter, given how cravenly the Republican Party have backed him through each scandal to date.

Quote of the day

“No one will know the difference.” It may be 25 years old, but the confident assertion from a studio head who suggested that Julia Roberts play renowned black abolitionist Harriet Tubman is still a startling example of how things have (hopefully) changed. When told she was black, he apparently went on to say: “That was so long ago. No one will know that.” The new film Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo, is out this month.

Everybody is talking about…

The aforementioned rebrand of the Conservative Party Press Office Twitter account as a fact checker. As Sarah wrote yesterday evening, the account should have been banned under Twitter’s strict rules. As I wrote today, it’s one of the most glaring symptoms yet of how polluted our digital communications are. And, as Stephen’s magazine column this week points out, one of the most terrifying things about the whole affair is that if this is what the Tories are prepared to do in public, it’s likely they are being even more dishonest in Facebook ads and mail-outs.

Everybody should be talking about…

The aftermath of the Bolton Cube fire, which has revealed that inadequate safety regulations and loopholes in planning law have left numerous buildings covered in unsafe cladding and raised further questions over fire safety, just two years after the Grenfell fire which killed 72 people.


Those disappointed to again see my face and not Jonn’s at the top of the email this evening will be pleased to know that he has avoided engaging in a dramatic reconstruction of either the first or second defenestration of Prague. All other things being well, he’ll be back on Monday.

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